Written for In Care of Relationships by Terri Crosby
Today’s conversation is the second half of last week’s blog — check it out here.
We’re talking about the subject of improvement gone wrong.
There’s a really good thing women do.
We beautify, improve, guide, garnish, shape up, nurture, cultivate, enhance and make better.
We do it all the time. It’s our thing. Women make the world a more beautiful place.
But when we try to improve other people, well, that’s when things can go wonky.
So, if you haven’t read the first article, go here and get the scoop.
Are you ready for The Meddling Quiz?
So how would you rate yourself at meddling? Want to find out?
THE MEDDLING QUIZ
Below are 5 situations. This is a different kind of quiz. There are no right answers, only options.
1. A high-powered professional married woman (with great plans for her son) deeply disapproves of his decision to marry young. He’s not ready — he doesn’t have a well-established job yet. She also disapproves of the girl and her family — he could do so much better.
What should this mother do, if anything?
- Avoid. She should keep her nose out of it, even go so far as to disconnect a little and have less contact. Leave him alone. He can figure things out and learn from consequences just like she did. Good luck, son, and you’re on your own with this one.
- Resist. Try to change the situation, maybe get him to slow him down the process. He’s being young and silly and hormonal, anyway. She should ask more questions, suggest alternatives, and give him thoughtful opportunities to re-consider his choices — surely he’ll come around.
- Give up the direct approach. Go around the bend instead, and get to know the girlfriend’s family. She needs to gather more information and do a little research and then she’ll be able to influence the situation more invisibly.
- Learn. She can learn about herself, starting with recognizing her own opinions as her opinions. Even with her opinions, she can support her son’s decisions as best she can, and develop an attitude of curiosity about how everything will unfold.
2. A divorced man and woman have dated for about a year and they don’t live together. The man plans a social party at his house, and his ex-wife shows up and acts like it’s totally her show. The Ex-wife shows people around the house, and takes on the role of hostess. How should the new girlfriend act?
- Avoid. Urge the man to get the ex-wife to leave. Take him aside and let him know her behavior is not OK and tell him to make her disappear. There, problem solved. She’s history.
- Resist. Get mad and show it. What the hell is going on? What the hell is this woman doing? Who in the hell does she think she is? Doesn’t she know she’s old news??? Confront her and order her out of the house — or make a scene and leave in a huff. You’ll show her!
- Give up – in a good way. Leave and go do something else that’s way more fun. Have a wonderful time elsewhere. Just let it all go. No biggie. Who cares about this in the grand scheme of things — it’s such small potatoes.
- Learn. Stay and find a way to observe and be entertained or fascinated. Study her and study your own reactions. Be gracious. Take the high road. Realize that you have not walked a mile in her shoes and you have no idea whatsoever what she is doing or why she’s doing it. Maybe she’s in pain. Maybe she’s blissfully unaware. Maybe she doesn’t have friendship boundaries. In any case, give her the benefit of the doubt. Stand still in yourself. Be who you are.
3. You created a well-loved program for a company and it was trashed after your departure. You created a beautiful home with built-ins and fine craftsmanship, and when you moved, the new owners gutted it and who knows what they did with all your hard work. It’s probably at the dump. You wrote a screenplay that was made into a movie, which the director altered and you feel deeply disappointed in the outcome. You wrote a book, loved writing it, and put your heart and soul out there, and it didn’t sell, which crushed your spirit big time. You birthed a globally influential way of thinking, someone made a movie about it and you — the originator — got cut out of the movie because you wouldn’t sign a legal document that stripped you of your intellectual property rights. You started a company, it grew into a mega-million dollar empire, and late in the game, you were fired from the very thing you invented and made successful.
This example involves invisible meddling. Here, the issue is about how do you deal with the situation inside your own head. Do you mentally meddle with your opposition, argue with them in your head as you make your morning breakfast, make plans to destroy them in return while you drive, or what? What goes on in your mind?
- You avoid. The whole thing makes you sick to your stomach. You avoid visiting your old stomping grounds, because it starts trouble in your head. It’s hard for you to be around any of the folks who trashed your creation, erased your hard work or left you out. You don’t want to see them — it just starts a bad party in your head.
- You resist. You understand all the pieces logically speaking, but you don’t like it. Nobody said you had to like it, right? You give them mental “what for” while washing windows or as you lay your head on your pillow to sleep. You prove yourself right, over and over in your head. You quite regularly hold mental trials and find them guilty every time.
- You give up. You don’t try anything big anymore, because it revs your engine of mental anguish all over again. You keep your life small and don’t take risks. You did your best that once, and now it’s over. Why try? It’s clearly not worth it. You cannot face the deep disappointment ever again.
- You learn. You notice that mental meddling takes quite a toll on you (and you only) so maybe being easier on yourself would be a healthy idea. So when a negative thought rises, you find a way to soften it in your mind. You make this your moment-to-moment practice. You take time to notice your negative thoughts in small ways, so that you can eventually work up to the big issue at hand. You’re not in a hurry — baby steps are fine with you. You learn to observe yourself rather than react so much. You explore your feelings. A wise teacher was asked about the secret to his enlightenment. He said, “Everything is truly OK with me.”
4. You divorced a couple of years ago. Your ex moved on right away, found a new relationship, and lo and behold, he’s happy and thriving. He seems nicer and more considerate now, not to mention more generous, open, and conversational. How can he be be such a different person? He’s getting along so well with his new wife and her children. You know you should be happy for him, but actually you find it upsetting.
- You avoid. You see the difference in him, and you see the difference in how she treats him and you see why that would make a difference. But you’re too far down the road, too old for this, and you don’t care enough to change anything about yourself or how you’d deal with the next guy. It’s too late, and you’re not planning or re-marrying anyway. You don’t even want to date — you’re pretty done with men. Besides, changing your ways at this late hour would invalidate your past, and you can’t handle that. So you stay the same. Being right is more important than being happy.
- You resist. You believe he’s a two-faced asshole, thank you very much, for not giving you the same good treatment. You’re sure he was holding out on you. Asshole…
- You give up, in mostly a good way, because having been through the separation and divorce, you’re more open. You remember that the two of you got along really well at the beginning of your relationship and you wonder why it changed. You wonder what you could have done differently to continue to grow together. You wonder if that could have been possible. You think about this, but don’t have any answers. Maybe you will learn one day, who knows.
- You learn. You notice the difference in him. You think it’s amazing. Maybe you could be that different, too. You feel inspired to learn more about relationships between men and women. You wonder about all the things you don’t know. Maybe there is a lot you don’t know. You decide to educate yourself, explore like crazy and create a whole new future.
5. You’re in college and you’re the target of a meddler. You thought parents and other well-meaning adults would leave you alone after you left home, but apparently advice doesn’t stop after graduating from High School. You believe in yourself as an artist, and you have no doubt about being successful. In fact, while other kids in High School were off drinking and goofing off, you were doing things like preparing your art for sale. And you sold your work at shows, galleries and to private customers. In fact, your artwork is displayed in many public spaces.
So now you’re at college, and a well-meaning person is informing you that your future success is all about competition, and appearing to be a super woman. Never mind that you came to college to focus on art — not dance around like a crazy monkey with too much to do.
And this meddler also thinks it’s important to have a double major or at least a minor, so you look smarter and people will hire you because you look really good on paper. But, alas, you don’t want to be hired, you want to start your own company and hire other people. The Meddler says she believes in you, but you wonder how true this is, because she counsels you to have two or three back-up plans in case your lofty art ideas don’t pan out.
What should you do?
- Learn to see the positive in all situations. Realize that this woman is honestly trying to look after you. She loves you, she is generous with you and means well. She really wants you to be successful! But what she’s doing is cutting and pasting her stressful approach to her own life into your streamlined and efficient way of doing things, which is why it feels bad. Her method doesn’t match you. Things have a way of working out for you pretty easily, which is very different than how life has gone for her. Have compassion. Thank her for her intention to support you. Thank her for the essence of what she is doing. Let’s say you receive a pen. You don’t really like the pen, it’s not your style. But you can genuinely thank the giver for supporting you to write that book. Same thing here.
- Learn to stand up for yourself more. Ask this woman for a favor regarding your relationship. Be direct in telling her you want to be able to share your successes with her, your victories, your happy moments, or new plans — but that’s not an invitation to deliver advice you didn’t ask for. Tell her you have a mentor who is helping you with your college curriculum, so that’s covered.
- Learn to focus on what you need and ask for it. When she is handing you advice you don’t need or want, joyfully interrupt her. Tell her what you do need and direct her toward finding that. For instance, you don’t want a second degree, but you do want an internship with a really fabulous glass and metal jewelry maker. Can she help you find you one of those? Help direct her energy to something you need or want. She clearly wants to help you, so help her to help you.
- Learn to take other people’s advice less personally. What someone is telling you is more about what they would do in your circumstances. It’ not about what’s right for you. Trust yourself. It’s OK not matter how it turns out. You’ll learn either way. Give yourself the satisfaction and pleasure of living your own life.
So how did you do? Again, there are no right answers, just options.
There is a powerful way that we support ourselves or others. There is a powerful way that we express or suppress — ourselves or others. We get to choose.